Happy Endings Can Be Hell

Change of Heart

And they lived happily ever after…

That may be a satisfying, romantic ending for a book…but it can be living hell for an author who wants to write a sequel, as New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jenna Bennett (aka Jennie Bentley) explains in this guest post. She writes the “Do It Yourself” home renovation mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and the “Cutthroat Business” mysteries for her own gratification. Her most recent book is the just-released Change of Heart, book six in the “Cutthroat Business” series. 

Once upon a time, I wrote a five book series of romantic mysteries.

More accurately, I wrote a very long romance novel in five parts, with a dash of mystery thrown in for good measure.

It had all the usual things you usually find in a novel: three high points of escalating stakes, a dark moment towards the end, and a climax and resolution.

The only difference was that each of my high points was its own book, the dark moment was a separate book, and the climax and resolution was yet another book.

And then I stopped, and started working on other things. The hero and heroine were together, after all. The story was over.

A couple of months went by, and people started asking when the next book was coming. I had to tell them that there would be no more books. There was nothing more to say.

“Oh, but…”

After I heard that enough times, I realized two things.

One was that although the hero and heroine were together, the story wasn’t necessarily over. When the fairytale ends, it doesn’t mean that nothing more happens. Life goes on. Life went on for my characters, too. I didn’t kill them, after all.

The other thing I realized—and call me mercenary—was that people wanted to read more about those characters. Like in the movie: if I wrote another book, they would come.

It was a no-brainer, really. We all want devoted readers, right? My readers were devoted enough to ask for more books. So why not come up with another story arc and write another few books? And make everyone happy. What could it hurt, after all?

Famous last words.

Come to find out, there’s a reason the fairytale ends with ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

It’s the same reason why, in romance novels, the book is over when the relationship is settled.

Happy, domestic, everyday relationships are damned hard to write.

Or maybe I should say that they’re damned hard to make interesting.

Who wants to read a book with no conflict, after all? No romantic tension? No stakes? Just page after page of cooking dinner and taking out the trash and going to sleep together and waking up together.

Even the sex becomes boring.

So the new book became about tossing wrenches into the works. I’d played the jealousy card before, but I played it again. I came up with a secret one party couldn’t tell the other. I threw in some extended family unhappiness about the relationship. I made sure that one party’s efforts to show the other party the beauties of domestic life had the opposite effect.

I did my level best to make trouble in paradise. And then I crossed my fingers and threw the book out there, holding my breath to see whether I’d succeeded.

It’s been a couple of weeks, and so far things look promising. The consensus seems to be that the series didn’t hit bottom once the hero and heroine were in a settled relationship. In fact, some people even said it was their favorite book in the series so far.

Of course, it’s early days yet. And I do have a few more books to write. And you can only play the jealousy card so many times before it becomes old hat.

But it turns out the story isn’t actually over when the curtain comes down. Life goes on behind the curtain. And the prince and princess don’t always live happily ever after. At least not every moment.

It’s more like they live mostly happily, with a little tension and a few arguments and some excellent makeup-sex, ever after.

And that isn’t so bad either.

4 thoughts on “Happy Endings Can Be Hell”

  1. Yes, life does go on after the relationship is settled, and I hope your book does really well.

    My theory on why Daytime Soaps died is that they told the same story over and over till
    it became stale. “Boy sees girl, Boy gets girl, Boy loses girl–next!” Or, “Girls sees boy,
    Girl gets boy, Girl loses boy–next!”

    One of my fav’s was the Sumner-Paige romance on “Knot’s Landing.” They did everything
    to keep them apart! Sumner even married Paige’s mother to do it! The writer’s spun it
    out for, like, three seasons. Happened on “Moonlighting” too–three seasons. But they could
    have gone on with the story after the consummation, the characters were so good!

  2. Dan, yes! Moonlighting was the classic relationship-fail in that regard. Put them together and the series was over. And a damn shame, because it was so much fun while it lasted!

    On the other hand, I definitely see your point about going too far in an effort to keep the characters apart and the tension going. A clear case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I think the best long-lasting relationship in a series I’ve seen is Hart to Hart. I thought that series was great. Donna Fletcher Crow also did two books about a couple – one where they get together and one on their honeymoon – that I thought were very well done. (The specific titles escape me, but it’s her “Richard & Elizabeth” series).

    I almost wonder if the key is having them together at the beginning if you want to do a series though. If you have them together from the get-go, nobody is going to miss the “Will they/Won’t they?” factor from previous book.s


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